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Heatstroke, Hyperthermia and Overheating in Small Pets: Signs, First Aid, and Prevention
Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith
Guinea Pigs & Chinchillas
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Some small pets are susceptible to overheating, especially guinea pigs, chinchillas, and rabbits. Overweight animals, and those that have heavy fur, are also more prone to heat stress. Older and sedentary animals may also be more at risk, especially if they do not drink normal amounts of water.

Heatstroke most commonly occurs when temperatures are 82° or above. High humidity (over 70%) can also increase the likelihood of heatstroke. Other risk factors include inadequate shade and ventilation, overcrowding, and other forms of stress.

To predict the possibility of heatstroke, add the value of the temperature (ºF) and the humidity. If the sum is greater than 150, the situation is dangerous. For example, 80ºF plus a 70% humidity = 150, and is a recipe for disaster.

Signs of heatstroke

Signs of heatstroke include:

  • Panting
  • Bright red tongue
  • Slobbering, or thick, sticky saliva
  • Depression
  • Weakness
  • Reluctance to move
  • Convulsions
  • Ultimately, death

First aids for heatstroke

Remove the pet from the hot area immediately and contact your veterinarian. Prior to taking him to your veterinarian, lower his temperature by wetting his ears, feet, and fur with cool water. CAUTION: Cooling must take place gradually. Cooling too quickly or allowing his body temperature to become too low can cause other life-threatening medical conditions. Place him on a wet towel and keep cooling the pet during transport to the veterinarian by keeping him wet, and running the air conditioner or driving with the windows open.

Your veterinarian will lower your pet's body temperature to a safe range (if you have not already) and continually monitor his temperature. Your pet will be given fluids, and possibly oxygen. He will be monitored for shock, respiratory distress, kidney failure, heart abnormalities, and other complications, and treated accordingly. Blood samples may be taken before and during the treatment. The clotting time of the blood may be monitored, since clotting problems are a common complication.

Aftercare

Pets with moderate heatstroke often recover without complicating health problems. Severe heatstroke can cause organ damage that might need ongoing care such as a special diet prescribed by your veterinarian. Pets who suffer from heatstroke once increase their risk for getting it again and steps must be taken to prevent it on hot, humid days.

Prevention

Provide adequate shade and plenty of fresh, cold water to encourage drinkingThere are a number of ways you can keep your pet cooler in the summer and help prevent heatstroke:

  • Provide adequate shade and proper ventilation.
  • If the temperature becomes too warm, turn up the air conditioner.
  • Give your pet a large, covered (so he cannot fall in) cooking pan filled with ice cubes. He will lie down next to it to cool himself. Fans will probably NOT help. Fans cool us because we perspire and the perspiration evaporating off of our bodies cools us down.
  • Place a cooled ceramic tile or marble square in the cage for your pet to lie on.
  • Fill soda bottles with water and freeze them, then place them in your pet's cage.
  • To encourage drinking, keep drinking water fresh and place a few ice cubes in the water.
  • If your pet has thick fur, groom her regularly to remove excess fur and prevent mats.
  • Mist your rabbit's ears. Since rabbits dissipate heat through their ears, misting them will help keep the rabbit cool.
Click here for a pdf version of this article.  See related products at DrsFosterSmith.com Pet Supplies  
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